2017 Artist Survey: Madeline Kenney

Kenney on Trump's First Year in Office, Her Best and Worst Dates, the Fyre Fest, and Weird British TV

Jan 11, 2018 Photography by Cara Robbins Web Exclusive
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For Under the Radar's 15th annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to the last year. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2017 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions. Here are some answers from Madeline Kenney. The Oakland-based singer/songwriter released her debut album, Night Night at the First Landing, in 2017 via Company.

For our annual Artist Surveys we emailed the same set of questions to musicians about the various sexual harassment and assault allegations, the "Me Too" movement, the chaotic first year of Donald Trump's presidency, the Charlottesville alt-right rally and racism in America, embarrassing moments, professional regrets, which Breakfast Club character they are most like, the end of the world, and much more. 

Top 7 Albums of 2017

I'm not a huge fan of ranking albums in order of preference. I feel like as artists we're always being ranked and compared and pitted against one another. Here are some albums, in no particular order, that I loved this year:

Amadou and Mariam: La Confusion
Big Thief: Capacity
PALM: Shadow Expert
Princess Nokia: 1992 Deluxe
Baby Island: Break the Lease
Angel Olsen: Phases
Dead Recipe: Goochigoo

What was the highlight of 2017 for either you personally or for the band? What was the low point? 

I released my debut full-length, which felt pretty good, at least to have all those songs out in the world. Honestly, this year has been so messed up politically, socially, environmentally, etc., that it's hard to pick a low pointI'm trying my best not to fixate on that stuff as the year comes to an end.
 
2017 saw sexual harassment and assault allegations against many men in the music industry, film industry, journalism, politics, and elsewhere (including Harvey Weinstein, Matt Mondanile of Ducktails and Real Estate, Brand New's Jesse Lacey, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Charlie Rose, Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, Democratic Senator Al Franken, and others). Why do you think the floodgates opened in 2017 and do you think any meaningful change will come from it or will sexual harassment and assaults continue to be prevalent in certain industries? 

I sincerely hope that meaningful change comes from it, but with so many of these social-media-fueled hot-button topics, I feel like it's trending to put up a post asking for responsibility and then just go back to the scroll. Unless serious, legislative protections can be put into place for women/victims of harassment and actual repercussions for men/abusers not only in entertainment but also in every line of work, we're not gonna see change. It's easy to call out a famous person and smear them because we know their face but don't know them personally, but what about someone who works in a kitchen (as I did for 9+ years) who experiences systematic sexism and inappropriate behavior? Who's gonna call out their harassers if it doesn't make good click bait? 

In 2017 the "Me Too" and "It Was Me" social media hashtags further brought sexual assault and harassment to light. Have you ever been the victim of harassment or assault, or witnessed such behavior, or been the perpetrator? And what concrete steps can be taken to combat sexual harassment and assault in the music industry and make it a more welcoming place for women?

I fully support the "Me Too" movement, but honestly I think every single woman, or pretty much any human who isn't a white man, has experienced or witnessed some form of harassment. And in the music industry? Jesus, it's a minefield. I think the keys are being outspoken and calling out behavior (everything from harassment and assault to casual sexism)guy in El Paso who told me three times how to sing into a microphone, I'm looking at you. Every guy who asked if I can carry my own amp, I'm looking HARD at you. Guy who told me I was "talented AND hot!," kindly see yourself out. I also think education in engineering and production will help women realize they don't need a man to make their work worthwhile and quality. Places like Women's Audio Mission in San Francisco really are changing the face of sound. One last note to journalistsask me about something other than the men I am associated with. That's another good start.

It has been said that 2016 was the year your favorite artist died, and, because of the litany of sex scandals, 2017 is the year that your favorite artist became dead to you. Which artist did you stop being a fan of this year? Which public person would you be most devastated to learn had a history of abusive or predatory behavior? 

Maybe I'm basic, but I was pretty bummed about Louis C.K. 

Should we be able to separate an artist's work from his or her actions? Or should an artist's negative behaviors completely negate the quality of his or her work? 

This is a tough one for me. I started my own small label this year, and had to drop an artist whose music I really adore from my label after learning about his history of abuse. It was painful because I had trusted him, invested money and time in him (both rare commodities for me lately), and really believed in his music. However, as a woman and just as a human person with morals I try to hone and define over my life, I couldn't support him or his art with the knowledge that he was an abuser. So I dropped him, and don't sell his records. The ground can get tricky and it was sad to leave his music behind, but now I can use my precious time and little money to promote good humans who also make amazing music. 

The first year of the Trump administration has been chaotic to say the least. What has President Donald Trump done so far that most concerns or angers you? Is there anything President Trump has done, proposed, or said that you actually agree with? Why do you think his base continues to support him?

I'm exhausted by the daily barrage of hate-speech and anger. Isn't the world a harsh enough place already? I think his base supports him because they are angry and scared, which I understand. What I don't understand is excusing outright abusive, hateful, racist and sexist behavior because of one's fear. Surely we've evolved beyond that by now? I guess not. It just makes me extremely sad.

Many predicted President Donald Trump wouldn't last long in the White House and yet he's still there. At this point how hopeful are you that he'll be impeached? Barring that, how optimistic are you that he won't win reelection? And although it's still very early, is there already a potential candidate you would most like to see run for president in 2020?

Something's gotta give. Re: A new candidate, um pretty much literally anyone else?

The alt-right/neo-Nazi/KKK rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the ensuing violence, and President Trump's reluctance to condemn such hate groups further showed that racism is alive and well in America. What concrete steps can we take to improve race relations in America and the world at large?

It's difficult to answer this question as a white person, because I don't think it's up to me to decide the path that we should take; I probably should just listen to people of color tell me the path, then walk it. For example, this past week saw another hashtag wave of white people thanking black women for saving us all from Roy Moore through their election of Doug Jones. Which is awesome and great, but after you pat yourself on the back for thanking black voters, don't you kinda just go back to your privilege? Again, I'm white and therefore privileged and just trying to listen and hear where I can be most useful in a real revolution. I feel lucky that I can do that listening in a place like Oakland, CA.

2017 saw several music festivals cancelled due to low ticket sales (not to mention the Fyre Festival debacle in the Bahamas). Are there too many music festivals right now?

Can I change my earlier answer to Fyre Fest being the best thing that happened this year? That sh*t was hilarious. Amazing. Are there too many fests? I dunno. Are there too many fests that try to screw artists over? YES.

Which Breakfast Club character are you most like and why? 

Gotta say, this is a hard left from the above line of questioning! But okay, I'm the clock that's 20 minutes fast.

Tell us about the best and worst dates you've ever been on.

Worst: Open mic. Best: Honestly, no dates stand out really, but a holiday trip to eastern Washington in the snow was pretty fun.

What's the most embarrassing (or funniest) thing that's happened to you in front of your bandmates (or on stage)? 

My bassist always tries to play Tool in the middle of songs or breaks between songs. So he's basically always trying to play Tool. He wants to be in Tool.

What's your biggest professional regret? 

Hopefully it's too early in my music career for regrets, but I regret I haven't met Yo La Tengo in person yet? Call me?

If you heard that the world was ending in one week who would be the first person you'd call and what are some of the things you'd do in that week? 

My best friend, Sahara. We would probably fly to Spain and eat cured meat and drink cava until we died, hopefully before the world exploded. 

Would you be open to having your phone and other technology implanted into your body in the future? 

NO NO NO NO NO.

A 2017 Wall Street Journal article pointed out that music critics have been giving less and less full on negative reviews of late. In the era of streaming when almost any album can be easily accessed, do you still find value in music criticism and have music critics gotten too soft?

Really? Because all I see are music critics being mean. Guess I'm just sensitive.

Which band, album, film, or TV show that was generally disliked by critics do you genuinely like and find yourself defending to friends?

I mostly just try to get my friends to watch really weird British TV with me, like Snuff Box or Garth Marenghi's Darkplace. Also, I could make a solid argument for Train's first album. Email me.

www.mkenneymusic.com

 

 

 

 

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